Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year.
Christmas Eve, 1971, and Billy is visiting his sick Grandpa with his parents and little brother. While the adults are out of the room, Grandpa (who was pretty much comatose a few seconds ago) turns to Billy and warns him that Santa will come and punish him if he’s been naughty. What’s the old bastard hoping to achieve? Best case scenario, you’re left with a traumatised child who sits up all night in case an old bearded man comes into his room to ‘punish’ him. But if that happened we’d have no movie; instead, Billy sleeps peacefully in the back of the car while his dad drives them home. Meanwhile, a guy dressed as Santa holds up a convenience store, shoots the proprietor dead and flees the scene, only to break down on the same road Billy’s parents are driving. When his dad stops to help, Billy freaks out – with good reason, as he watches his father get shot and his mother get almost raped before having her throat cut.
Three years later, Billy and his little brother are living in a Utah orphanage run by nuns. Billy gets sent to his room by the Mother Superior for drawing a picture of a dead Santa and a beheaded reindeer, but is let out to play by kindly Sister Margaret. Rather than play outside, however, Billy spies on a couple having sex, who are then punished by Mother Superior. Later, Billy is further disturbed by being forced to sit on Santa’s knee – disturbed by flashbacks of his parents’ deaths, Billy smacks the old fella in the face and runs to his room.
So to 1984. Billy, now in his late teens, lands a job in the stockroom of a toy store. One slightly misplaced 80s musical montage later, he seems to be fitting in nicely and has fallen for Pamela, the shop girl. But everything starts to go awry on Christmas Eve, when the store Santa phones in sick and Billy has to take his place. Cue more flashbacks of his parents’ murders while he disturbingly pins a clearly terrified girl on his knee in front of mothers who appear to be so grateful for a few moments peace, they fail to notice how scared their kids are. Come closing time, disaster appears to have been averted – Billy, although a little spacey, seems to be coping, until his Chachi-lite coworker tries to rape Pamela in the stockroom. That’s enough to tip Billy over the edge, and he strangles Chachi with a string of fairy lights. Pamela, having been saved from a serious sexual assault, is strangely ungrateful and screams abuse at Billy, who stabs her to death with a box-cutter. After caving in his boss’ head with a claw hammer (leading to a spray of juice and what look like blackcurrants) and shooting his other drunk coworker with an arrow (presumably 80s toy stores sold functioning offensive weapons), Billy leaves the shop to go on his killing spree, just missing Sister Margaret, who pops by to see how he’s doing and finds the carnage.
The rest of the movie is taken up with random murders as Billy takes a somewhat indirect route back to the orphanage shouting ‘Punish’ and ‘Naughty’ at his victims, cut with scenes of Margaret and the sheriff trying to track him down. His first stop is the home of Linnea Quigley, who goes to the door to let her cat in (topless, obviously – I don’t think Linnea owned a shirt until well into the 90s) and ends up being impaled on the antlers of a trophy stag. Her boyfriend gets it next, thrown through a window after a struggle with Billy. Also in the house is a little girl, who escapes harm by telling ‘Santa’ that she’s been good all year, and so gets his bloody box-cutter as an entirely age-appropriate gift. Following a rather unnecessary cutaway to police storming into a house to arrest a father dressed as Santa (more than one Santa? on Christmas Eve? surely incredibly unlikely) and the beheading of a sledging bully, a deputy spots Billy approaching the kids outside the orphanage and shoots him dead. Unfortunately, it turns out not to be the 6 foot, 18-year-old killer, but a 50-year-old deaf priest, and the deputy gets an axe to the chest for his troubles. Casually beheading a snowman on his way past, the real Billy stalks into the orphanage to kill his tormentor, the Mother Superior, only to be stopped at the last minute (is there any other time?) by several shots to the back from the ever-punctual sheriff. As Billy dies, he tells the children that they’re safe now, as ‘Santa Claus is dead’. The final shot is of Billy’s little brother, Richard, looking furious and shouting ‘Naughty’. Cue the sequel…
When Silent Night, Deadly Night was released in 1984 (on the same day as A Nightmare on Elm Street, which it briefly outgrossed), it was met with immediate controversy, due to the killer being dressed as Santa for most of the film. Angry parents picketed screenings of the film across the US, presumably accepting no responsibility and ready to blame someone else if their underage child saw the movie, and critic Gene Siskel went so far as to state that “Silent Night, Deadly Night now has the distinction of joining I Spit On Your Grave as one of the two most contemptible films I have seen”. In the UK, the film was not submitted for classification by the BBFC, and was finally released for the first time in 2009. Almost 30 years on from its original release, the most shocking thing about the film is how good it actually is. Aside from a few plot holes (after killing Billy’s parents, the robber just wanders off, leaving their car and baby Richard behind; why does it take store manager Mr Simms 8 or 9 months to check on how Billy is doing in the stockroom?) it stands (decapitated) head and shoulders above many mid-80s slashers, and still holds up well today.
Finally, for those viewers who feel disappointed by Miss Quigley’s relatively short screen time, rest assured – we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the near future…